RAFI-USA’s Just Foods program was started by Michael Sligh, a farmer and tireless activist for organic standards. Now under the leadership of Kelli Dale, Just Foods continues to work towards a world where all who labor in agriculture are respected, protected, valued, and have the power to earn a dependable income; and where air, water, soil, and culture are preserved and protected for future generations. Today, we primarily do this through direct service and technical assistance, with a commitment to “over-serve” communities that have been historically underserved.
Our mission is to make fair, sustainable agriculture a viable choice by:
- Educating farmers and consumers about the importance of agricultural biodiversity.
- Working to protect and expand farmer, business, and consumer choice of diverse public seed varieties.
- Identifying, developing, and expanding production, marketing, and research opportunities for sustainable and regenerative farming.
- Providing technical support services that expand production practices, cultural knowledge sharing, and marketing solutions for a network of farmers of color.
- Promoting policies that will support and strengthen regenerative agriculture practices.
- Engaging with the National Organic Coalition to protect organic integrity.
Current projects include: The Farmers of Color Network, the Southern Farmers Seed Cooperative, Farmers Market Access Program, and NC Seed Stewards. Read more about individual projects below.
The Farmers of Color Network is a merging of work started through the former RAFI Farmer Leadership Network and the need to build more support and outreach to communities of color within the Agricultural Reinvestment Fund. The Farmers of Color Network aims to:
- Build a stronger network of Farmers of Color through farmer led and directed technical support.
- Help engage farmers with new markets and market solutions.
- Create a cultural space that honors multi-generational and women-led organizing, agroecological, and sustainable practices, as well as ancestral traditions and knowledge.
- Center collective work exchanges and mutual support for on-farm infrastructure, and increase the collective knowledge base within the Network.
The Fresh Bucks program is an EBT incentive available at NC farmers and mobile markets. RAFI-USA first coordinated this program in 2015. In 2019, RAFI-USA received a 4-year USDA FINI grant to coordinate and expand the Fresh Bucks program to more local NC markets. The Fresh Bucks program focuses on increasing the organizational capacity of small, rural markets as well as improving food access and inclusivity for all community members. Just Foods also coordinates a Double Bucks Program at six Triangle-area farmers markets through a corporate sponsorship from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. This provides matching incentives for SNAP recipients, WIC, and WIC FMNP clients, and people living in Section 8 Housing.
Since our founding, we have been at the forefront of the organic movement and continues to defend the integrity of organic standards. We develop and promote practical strategies to preserve organic standards integrity through collaboration with other agricultural organizations. As a founding member and the fiscal sponsor of the National Organic Coalition, RAFI-USA works diligently on policy recommendations to ensure strong organic standards that magnify the various health, environmental, and economic benefits of organic food production.
Regionally Adapted Seeds
In 2014, after attending Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture, RAFI-USA recognized the need for organic commodity seed that’s regionally-adapted to the Southeastern U.S. The majority of corn and soybean varieties commercially available are bred for Midwest conditions and are not adapted to changing climate conditions in the American Southeast. In 2017, RAFI-USA began supporting a group of North Carolina organic farmers in forming a seed cooperative to grow the organic seed industry in the Southeast. This work grew out of the 2009-12 project, Breeding for Organic Production Systems (view in past projects, below), when RAFI-USA worked with farmers and plant breeders to develop regionally-adapted seeds.
Pollinators & Pollinator Habitat
Beginning in 2016, RAFI-USA identified pollinator habitat as essential for the preservation of biodiversity and environmental well-being. This began a multi-year collaboration with the Burt’s Bees Greater Good Foundation to increase the number of pollinators across North Carolina. Together, we piloted a pollinator habitat development project in 2016. Working with farmers across North Carolina, we distributed more than 3 billion wildflower seeds for planting – enough to cover 1200 acres.
The 2016 pilot project was wildly successful with both past participating farmers and new farmers expressing interest in planting more pollinator habitat. In 2017, RAFI-USA and Burt’s Bees Greater Good Foundation invested even more in the distribution of wildflower seeds. During that same year, 2017, RAFI-USA participated in the founding of the North Carolina Pollinator Conservation Alliance, with the mission of supporting the health and diversity of pollinators in North Carolina through protection, restoration, and creation of pollinator habitat. As a founding partner, RAFI-USA works to facilitate the dissemination of pollinator best practices and seed across North Carolina. In that vein, RAFI-USA expanded our collaboration with Burt’s Bees Greater Good Foundation and North Carolina farmers to distribute & plant more than 15 billion wildflower seeds, enough to cover 4,200 acres or roughly the size of 3,100 football fields.
Building off our work in 2016 and 2017, Just Foods developed a North Carolina Pollinator Toolkit with the purpose of reversing the decline of pollinator species. The Pollinator Toolkit is a comprehensive, “one stop shop” for the residents of North Carolina, providing technical guidance on developing pollinator habitat. The materials cover selecting appropriate seed mixes for various projects, site preparation, planting, and maintenance, and includes potential funding sources for pollinator habitat projects. This project was completed in collaboration with the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Audubon North Carolina, Fresh Energy, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Fresh Energy, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Pollinator Working Group. Funding for development of the Toolkit was provided by the Burt’s Bees Greater Good Foundation.
North Carolina Seed Stewards Project
The NC Seed Stewards Project aims to conserve local seed varieties and production practices, improve biodiversity on farms, and strengthen collective and traditional community organizing models. NC Seed Stewards is a farmer-directed project that addresses the scarcity of North Carolina-ecotype plant seed availability through:
Seed Saving: Supporting farmers in conserving regionally-adapted and heritage seed varieties for family, communities markets for cultural, ecological, and conservation purposes.
Collective Learning: Building a participatory learning process that supports seed selection, cultural preservation, production & marketing goals, led and informed by farmers of color in our network. A long-term goal of the NC Seed Steward project is to help overcome the barrier to expanding North Carolina pollinator habitat by increasing the availability of native pollinator habitat seeds.
Agricultural Justice Project
RAFI-USA is a co-founder and project partner of the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP). With support from RAFI-USA , AJP’s Food Justice Certified label launched in 2011. The label sets rigorous standards for the respectful treatment of farmworkers, living wages, safe working conditions, collective bargaining rights, and a shared responsibility for preserving the earth’s resources for future generations.
Following the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in 1997, RAFI-USA advocated for funding to be allocated to farmers and rural communities that would need to transition away from tobacco-dependent economies. From this, came the Agricultural Reinvestment Fund grant program – a grant program that assists entrepreneurial, innovative farmers and collaborative groups in developing new sources of agricultural income. Since 1998, RAFI-USA has funded more than 600 farming projects and distributed more than $6 million in funds to agricultural communities across the state. Learn more.
From 2009-2012, North Carolina State University and RAFI-USA embarked on a project to develop field crop varieties, specifically selected for organic production in the Southeast: BOPS. The BOPS coalition connected organic farmers and breeders around the Southeast to share and better understand the challenges faced in using organic seed in the Southeast.
Protecting genetic diversity in agriculture is essential to the viability of family farms. We advocate for classical breeding programs and support publicly held seeds and breeds. Learn more about the origins of this work here.